An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Caltra National School

Kinclare Caltra County Galway

Uimhir rolla: 17095I

 

Date of inspection: 11 March 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Conclusion

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

A whole-school evaluation of Caltra N.S. was undertaken in March, 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Social, Personal and Health Education.  The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

Caltra N.S is a co-educational primary school located in a rural setting on the perimeter of the small village of Caltra in Co. Galway. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Elphin and is one of seven schools in the parish of Ahascragh, the majority of which are located in relatively close proximity to one another. Enrolments in Caltra N.S. have more than doubled in the last five years and, with growth and development anticipated in the village, pupil numbers are expected to increase further. The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Pupils enrolled in the school

34

Mainstream classes in the school

8

Teachers on the school staff

2

Mainstream class teachers

2

Teachers working in support roles

1

Part-time caretaker

1

Part-time cleaner

1

 

The pupils are divided into two multi-grade classes comprising junior infants to second class and third to sixth class. There is a substantially greater number of pupils in the junior classroom. While a more equitable division of pupils would be preferable, room size is a major determining factor in the distribution of the different age groups between the teachers. The school is located close to a busy t-junction and this poses another serious concern for the board of management. As a matter of priority, the board is currently seeking to develop parking facilities and a safe set-down and collection area in consultation with the patron, staff, parents and local community.

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

In line with the school’s mission statement, the board, staff and parents work collaboratively to nurture a positive and co-operative educational environment. Emphasis is placed on fostering self-esteem, encouraging tolerance, developing respect and creating an environment in which every adult and child can be cherished equally irrespective of their abilities, race, nationality, religion, social or family status. There is a palpable sense of community in the school. Neighbouring householders, past-pupils and parents actively support the board and staff in maintaining the premises and in enhancing the range of educational experiences for the pupils. Very good attendance patterns are further testimony to a strong spirit of parental co-operation and support.

 

1.2 Board of management

The board of management is properly constituted and is currently in its first year of office. Matters immediately affecting the work of the school, future priorities and the school’s financial situation are discussed at board meetings held at least once a term. Board decisions are carefully recorded and minutes indicate that individual members assume responsibility for specific tasks as an effective means of achieving progress. The board has a development plan for the current school year and it is recommended that this should now be extended to span a period of at least three years. It would also be of value to indicate in the plan the target dates for the commencement and completion of prioritised tasks. The board is currently reviewing the school’s health and safety statement and intends to address a number of other matters including a review of the enrolment policy and the issuing of an annual report on the operation of the school. 

 

A considerable amount of maintenance work has been carried out in recent years. The school now provides a very small office, two classrooms and a third room which serves as a staffroom, library, computer room and a learning-support/resource room. The classrooms are bright, clean and attractively decorated. However, they are small and lack such requisites as sinks, storage units and boards at appropriate levels for pupil use. While space for display is limited in the classrooms, the corridor is used to very good effect for the display of library books, historical artefacts, photographs, project work, examples of pupils’ writing and work in the Visual Arts. The board is continuing a programme of enhancement and is currently seeking funding for a roof replacement. In the light of increasing enrolments, it would now be timely for the board to review the development plans to ensure that they adequately serve the future needs of the school.

 

The board recognises the importance of encouraging and supporting opportunities for staff development. Formal staff meetings are organised once a term and the agenda is drawn up by the principal in consultation with the staff.  Priorities are discussed at meetings and an action plan is formulated. Areas recently discussed include the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunities in Schools) initiative, library facilities, oral English and the monitoring and assessment of pupil progress. The teachers express interest in engaging with the Leadership Development for Schools service as a means of further professional development.

 

The board provides a good range of teaching and technological resources to support work in all curricular areas and to assist the staff in mediating the curriculum for pupils with special educational needs. External tutors visit the school to supplement provision in the Arts and in Physical Education. The necessity to ensure that such activities form part of classroom planning, are accessible to all pupils and are consistent with maintaining balance across the strands and strand units of the curriculum was discussed with the board. The board expresses satisfaction with recent developments in relation to curricular provision in the school. It intends engaging with staff and parents in the review of curricular policies, a process which is to commence shortly.

 

1.3 In-school management

The in-school management team comprises a teaching principal and a special duties teacher. The principal was appointed to the staff in 2003 and has worked diligently to enhance the school atmosphere and environment, to develop the school plan and to co-ordinate the provision of a broad range of educational experiences for the pupils. The principal leads change in a very effective manner and regularly discusses organisational, curricular and pastoral priorities with the board, staff and parents. A positive school climate is fostered with commendable emphasis being placed on ensuring open communication among all parties.

 

The principal is ably and willingly assisted by the deputy principal who came to the school in 2005. The deputy principal assumes responsibility for a wide range of activities and engages in the decision-making process as a member of the board of management. The specific duties attached to the post pertain mainly to additional supervision. There is a need to review the duties in order that they appropriately reflect the nature of the post in the context of a two-teacher school and are indicative of the duties being performed. Duties attached to this post should span organisational, curricular and pastoral areas and should be reviewed periodically in the light of the changing needs of the school.

 

1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

Caltra is noted for its strong community spirit and the school is perceived as a vibrant part of the community. While there is no established parents’ association, the board encourages the active involvement of parents in the work of the school. Parents assist with book-fairs, field-trips, sporting events, games coaching, swimming and fund-raising. The parents are very supportive of the school’s paired-reading programme, its involvement with Cumann na nBunscol, its participation in the Green-Schools initiative and in competitions such as Write-a-Book, K’nex, and Tidy Towns. Along with members of the local community, parents assist with the maintenance of the premises and support curricular provision in History, Drama and the Visual Arts in particular.

 

While the size of the school facilitates frequent informal contact between board members, staff and parents, a number of effective formal practices are in place to promote communication with the school community. Notes, letters and newsletters are issued in a timely manner, an induction day for new parents is organised on an annual basis and the use of a homework diary supports regular direct communication between parents and individual class teachers. Pupil progress is reported at parent-teacher meetings held once a year and the issuing of written school reports is to commence at the end of the current school year.

 

The board and staff engage collaboratively in policy formulation. The general parent body has been consulted in relation to policy development in such areas as discipline, enrolment, healthy eating and relationships and sexuality education. The formation of a parents’ association would serve to facilitate a greater level of parental involvement in policy formulation and review. This has been discussed at board level and parents are now in the process of seeking procedural details from the National Parents’ Council.

 

1.5 Management of pupils

All staff members collaborate to promote positive pupil behaviour and good attendance. Pupils are encouraged to participate in all school activities and a high level of support is forthcoming from the small but interested parent body. Pupils are praised regularly and are encouraged to react positively and constructively to each other’s efforts and contributions. The pupils are mindful of school rules and are very well behaved. They present as happy and friendly, and co-operate readily with their teachers. They display pride and interest in their work and are eager to engage in conversation and to share their achievements.

 

 

2.     Quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The overall quality of whole-school and classroom planning is good. The school has drawn on the support of facilitators and ‘cuiditheoirí’ from the national support services to guide the planning process and to inform implementation of specific curricular areas. The school plan is available for viewing and incorporates a wide range of clearly articulated organisational policies. Curricular policies provide valuable guidance in relation to content, methodologies, approaches and assessment. The progression in teaching and learning is indicated very clearly in some instances. Future reviews should ensure that all curricular policies indicate the intended progression as pupils move from class to class in the multi-grade situation. Consideration should also be given to highlighting the role of the board and parents in the implementation of curricular policy.

 

Classroom planning reflects the principles of the curriculum and the contents of the school plan. Long-term and short-term plans are concisely written and clearly laid out. Monthly progress records are consistently completed and kept on file. There is a tendency in some instances of short-term planning to indicate teacher intention in preference to specifying learning outcomes. Attention should now be directed towards specifying what the learner is expected to know, understand and/or be able to do at the end of the period of learning. This will then serve to inform the choice of assessment procedures more precisely. 

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

 

3.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Language

 

Gaeilge

Baintear leas as raon breá straitéisí chun na ceithre shnáithe churaclaim a láimhseáil sa Ghaeilge. Eagraítear obair bheirte agus grúpobair go féiltiúil agus is suimiúil na comhthéacsanna a chruthaítear chun scileanna éisteachta agus labhartha a threisiú. Stiúrtar idir chluichí, ceistiú, comhráite réamhdhéanta, rólghlacadh, amhránaíocht agus aithriseoireacht le cumas. Is inmholta mar a mhealltar na daltaí chun caint shoiléir leanúnach a chleachtadh agus abairtí iomlána a úsáid nuair is cóir. Baintear feidhm chiallmhar as téacsleabhair chun foclóir a leathnú agus léiríonn na daltaí dea-thuiscint ar réimse áirithe teanga ag na rangleibhéil dhifriúla. Cé go ndéantar tagairt do na mórthéamaí teanga sa phlean scoile, b’fhiú go mór feidhmeanna teanga a leagan amach do gach rangleibhéal agus fo-théamaí a cheapadh faoi na mórthéamaí teanga chun an forchéimniú atá i gceist ó rang go rang a chur in iúl go soiléir.

 

Tá dea-obair ar siúl maidir le forbairt scileanna léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta. Caitear dua ar leith le cineálacha difriúla téacs a roghnú agus a chur in oiriúint d’aois, cumas agus suim na ndaltaí. Tugtar faoi altanna beaga, tuairiscí gearra, dánta agus sleachta ó théacsleabhair a léamh. Pléitear an t-ábhar chun tuiscint a dhaingniú agus mar réamhullmhúchán do ghníomhaíochtaí scríbhneoireachta. Rinneadh infheistiú le déanaí in ábhair nua léitheoireachta agus tá na h-oidí ar tí tosú ar leabhair mhóra agus fíorleabhair a úsáid chun cabhrú le caighdeáin na léitheoireachta a ardú. Ba thairbheach anois timpeallacht níos saibhre sa Ghaeilge a chothú tríd an scoil, raon na ngníomhaíochtaí scríbhneoireachta a leathnú a thuilleadh agus deiseanna rialta a thabhairt do na dalta scríbhneoireacht phearsanta a dhéanamh ach go háirithe.

 

Aithnítear an tábhacht a bhaineann le tuiscint a chothú ar chomhréir na teanga. Tá tús maith curtha le clár a aontú chun cruinneas gramadaí agus feasacht ar láimhseáil na mbriathra a chur chun cinn go córasach. Is leas leis na daltaí freisin an dua a chaitear le feasacht cultúir a threisiú. Cuirtear ar a gcumas cnuasach amhrán a chanadh go binn agus raon álainn port a sheinm go ceolmhar ar fheadóga stáin.

 

Irish

Beneficial use is made of a fine range of strategies to manage the four strands of the curriculum in Irish. Paired work and group work are organised regularly and interesting contexts are created to strengthen listening and speaking skills. Games, questioning, pre-prepared conversations, role-play, singing and recitation are ably directed. It is commendable how the pupils are encouraged to practice clear continuous speech and to use full sentences in appropriate situations. Textbooks are used sensibly to extend vocabulary and the pupils display good understanding of a particular range of language at the different class levels. Although the major language themes are referred to in the school plan, it would be of great value to set out the language functions for each class level and to form sub-themes under the major language themes in order to provide clear guidance in relation to the progress envisaged from class to class.

 

 Good work is done too in relation to the development of reading and writing skills. Particular effort is made to choose different kinds of texts and to adapt them to suit the age, ability and interest of the pupils. Small paragraphs, short accounts, poems and extracts from textbooks are read. The content is discussed to consolidate understanding and as a preparation for writing activities. The school has recently invested in new reading materials and the teachers are about to start using large books and real books to help raise reading standards. It would be of benefit to cultivate a more print-rich environment throughout the school and to extend the written activities further and to provide regular opportunities for the pupils to engage in personal writing in particular.  

 

The importance of developing an understanding of the syntax of the language is recognised. A good start has been made on agreeing a programme to develop grammatical accuracy and to promote an understanding of verbal usage in a systematic manner. The pupils are also benefiting from the efforts being made to strengthen cultural appreciation. They are enabled to sing a collection of songs sweetly and to play a lovely repertoire of airs musically on tin whistles.   

 

English

The school plan in English guides the integrated approach which the staff adopts in relation to the teaching of oral language, reading and writing. Learning activities are competently organised at all class levels using a well balanced combination of whole class teaching, group, paired and individual work. Appropriate attention is paid to the development of listening skills in the junior classes and particular emphasis is placed on encouraging senior pupils to engage in oral communication with confidence. The pupils are exposed to an interesting range of poetry at all class levels and recite rhymes and poems with enjoyment. A poetry copy is used to very good effect as a memory aid and as a means of creating individual anthologies of poetry at particular class levels.

 

A broad range of strategies is used to create a reading culture in the school including the organisation of paired reading, silent reading, books fairs and membership of book clubs. There is a consistent approach to developing phonological awareness and structures are in place to monitor the acquisition of sight vocabularies. Mainstream and support teachers collaborate effectively to organise a highly focussed programme of early intervention. Reading activities are suitably differentiated throughout the school and incorporate the use of large books, graded texts, library books, class novels and a range of supplementary materials. Opportunities to respond to text in a variety of ways are purposefully planned and questioning techniques are clearly focussed on developing comprehension and higher-order thinking skills. Pupils display confidence in their reading ability and indicate a good level of interest in reading books by a variety of authors. Individual progress in reading is closely monitored and is being tracked as pupils proceed from class to class. Reading records indicate that pupils are making good progress from year to year. It is suggested that pupils could now be introduced to a class novel at an earlier stage.

 

Writing skills are developed through a well structured programme incorporating the use of a variety of materials and the adoption of a multi-dimensional approach to the teaching of spelling. News, sentence formation, dictation and functional writing are regular components of the programme while imaginative abilities are addressed through a number of activities including participation in the Write-a-book initiative. Praiseworthy emphasis is being placed on extending the children’s range of reading experience as a means of improving their expressive and communicative abilities. It is suggested that the use of flipcharts would act as an additional support for vocabulary extension, story framing and experiential writing at junior level and that the range of activities at senior level should be extended to incorporate more regular opportunities to write on a range of topics and in a variety of genres. It would also be of value to discuss and agree the development of a cursive style of handwriting as recommended in the curriculum.

 

3.2 Mathematics

The teaching of Mathematics is carefully structured and well paced at all class levels. Mathematical language is clearly identified in the school plan and is appropriately emphasised during instruction and activity periods. Pupils are provided with opportunities to manipulate materials, to engage in discussion and questioning, to practice estimation skills and to apply mathematical concepts and skills in other curricular areas. A good range of equipment and materials is available and is used effectively to support early mathematical activities and work in each strand unit at the different class levels. While desk and wall displays of number lines and 100-squares are used to very good effect to support number work, it would be of value to develop classroom displays further to support work across all the strand units and to provide, in particular, ready and easy access to frequently used materials. Pupils recall number facts reasonably fast and competently complete rote computational exercises. There is a need however to develop deeper understanding of number relationships. To this end, it is suggested that teachers should reconsider adopting the regrouping approach to subtraction and should focus on using equivalent fractions as a means of simplifying numerical operations involving fractions. It would also be of value to share the agreed language of common procedures with the parent body and to include strategies for enhancing recall and memorisation of number facts in the school plan.

 

3.3Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE)

The content of the programme in SPHE is implemented through a combination of formal and informal approaches. The strands are explored over a two-year period with activities being organised during discrete lesson periods and as part of the work in other curricular areas. Praiseworthy emphasis is placed on fostering a positive, respectful and caring school atmosphere to support the implementation of the programme. The school’s code of behaviour and its policies on enrolment, anti-bullying, health and safety, child protection, healthy eating and substance use have been drawn up as part of the programme. A committee assisted with the development of the current policy on relationships and sexuality education and it is recommended that such an approach again be adopted when reviewing the policy. The school joins with neighbouring schools to avail of the expertise of guest speakers who address specific areas of the programme.

 

Teachers draw on a range of publications for information and for teaching and learning materials. Discussion, question and answer sessions, and the use of a ‘speak-object’ are effectively managed to enable the pupils to develop good listening, discussion and communication skills. The school’s participation in the Green Flag initiative provides specific opportunities for the pupils to engage in integrated activities to enhance their understanding of environmental care issues. It is suggested that the staff should explore the possibility of using the vacant classroom for SPHE activities as a means of facilitating the use of a broader range of strategies and approaches.

 

 

3.4 Assessment

Regular correction of work, the administration of teacher-designed and standardised tests, and the maintenance of observation records, checklists, portfolios of work, reading logs and photographic records are among the assessment techniques used in the school to monitor pupil progress. Assessment results are regularly analysed and the information is effectively used to inform the organisation of class activities, group work, early intervention strategies and the design of programmes of work for individual pupils. Standardised tests in English and Mathematics are administered annually and the results are collated and recorded in a manner which facilitates the tracking of individual pupil progress from year to year. A range of diagnostic tests is available for further more detailed investigation of identified areas of learning difficulty. Parents are informed of their children’s progress during parent-teacher meetings organised once a year. Parents are also welcome to call to the school at suitable times during the school day to discuss their child’s education. Following completion of in-service this year, at which information was provided on the use of assessment, the staff intends to provide written pupil-progress reports to parents at the end of the school year.   

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

The school has a visiting learning-support/resource teacher who provides support in English and Mathematics and in other areas specific to the educational needs of individual pupils. The service is currently based on the general allocation model which was calculated on the basis of an enrolment figure substantially lower than that which currently pertains. The school has adopted the staged approach to provision and praiseworthy emphasis is placed on early intervention and early identification of learning difficulties. Intervention is organised on a whole-class withdrawal basis and is focussed on providing sustained, intensive support in developing phonological awareness at senior infant and first class levels. The Middle Infant Screening Test and standardised tests in English and Mathematics are appropriately used to screen pupils for individual support while a range of diagnostic tests is used to identify individual needs.

 

Class, group and individual programmes are compiled through a process of consultation with class teachers and parents, and are reviewed twice a year. The programmes incorporate a very clear statement of learning targets and identification of a wide range of strategies and approaches including use of the school’s technological resources. It would be of value to provide a more specific statement of pupil strengths and competencies in order to clarify the baseline from which the programmes are commencing.

 

The supplementary service is managed very efficiently in the school with pupils being withdrawn from class for periods of time ranging from 20 to 40 minutes. Teaching and learning activities are very well structured and excellently paced. Mathematical tasks are commendably focussed on real life situations and on developing problem solving strategies. There is regular communication with class teachers and the use of individual pupil folders provides an effective means of monitoring and sharing information on pupil progress and achievement. Future development of the service should incorporate the provision of in-class support where appropriate and the development of dedicated display areas in the room used for learning-support and resource teaching.   

 

4.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

The school receives grant-aid under the national action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS.  Grant monies are used to enhance resources for the school’s literacy and numeracy programmes and to support full pupil participation in all school-related activities. The school operates a book loan scheme and provides assistance with the purchase of textbooks when appropriate. The school also qualifies for assistance under the national rural development scheme, CLÁR, (Ceantair Laga Ard-Riachtanais). This initiative in conjunction with funds raised by the parent body has enabled the school to upgrade its playground facilities to a high standard.

 

5.     Conclusion

 

The school has strengths in the following areas:

 

·         The board of management and staff work in a very focussed manner to improve the educational provision in the school.

·         Praiseworthy emphasis is placed on maintaining good communication and a supportive parent body works in conjunction with the board and staff to create a positive, friendly and open school atmosphere.

·         The staff is highly committed to implementing curricular change and to providing a broad range of educational experiences for the pupils.

·         Commendable emphasis is placed on developing literacy and numeracy skills and on establishing informative assessment practices.

·         Effective staff collaboration contributes to the high quality of the learning-support/resource service in operation in the school.

·         The pupils present as interested, respectful, friendly and appreciative of the learning opportunities being provided in the school.

 

The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:

 

·         The board should extend the timeframe of its development plan and should incorporate into it the intended time parameters pertaining to the formulation and review of policy, the development of facilities and resources, the review of posts of responsibility and the issuing of a report on the operation of the school.  

·         The school is encouraged to proceed in facilitating the formation of a parents’ association as a means of promoting increased levels of involvement of parents in the work of the school and in policy formulation and review in particular. 

·         Ba thairbheach athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar an bpolasaí i leith múineadh na Gaeilge chun ábhar an chláir a chinntiú agus chun treoir shoiléir a thabhairt d’oidí maidir leis an bhforchéimniú atá i gceist ó rang go rang. (It would be of benefit to review the policy on the teaching of Irish in order to clarify the content of the programme and to provide a clear guide to teachers in relation to the intended progression from class to class.)

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

Published December 2008

 

 


 

 


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